With a huge shove from his Kaulig Racing teammate Landon Cassill on the white flag lap of the NASCAR Xfinity Series Sparks 300 at Talladega Superspeedway, AJ Allmendinger got a massive run on race leader Sam Mayer on the entrance to Turn 3. But he was blocked in by Ryan Sieg’s No. 39 to the outside.
Unbelievably, in a season so dominated by aggressive, full-contact, no-holds-barred driving, Allmendinger lifted.
He and Cassill fell back, got lined up again, and gave it another run. This time, as Allmendinger approached the rear bumper of car No. 1 in the tri-oval, he was inches clear of Sieg. The veteran road-course racer made a sharp turn to the right, pulling even with Mayer and beating him to the start/finish line by a scant 0.015 seconds.
It was Allmendinger’s fourth Xfinity checkered flag of 2022, and the 14th of his career. Despite having led the white-flag lap three times on this style of racetrack, the win is also the veteran driver’s first on a superspeedway.
With the victory, the No. 16 team is locked into the Xfinity Series Round of 8 with one race remaining – the Charlotte ROVAL, which Allmendinger has won three years in a row.
“Still hate [superspeedway racing],” Allmendinger told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider from the front straightaway. “But gosh, we’ve been so close to winning one … Honestly, all credit to Landon Cassill, he kept shoving me, he stuck with me. That’s what’s great about Kaulig Racing, when you got teammates like Landon and Daniel [Hemric]… he’s gonna share it with me, but I wish we could both be the winner, because he deserves it more than I do.”
The interview was interrupted by Cassill and Hemric, who poured out a water bottle on their teammate’s head and shared a hug on the start-finish line.
While he can’t share the win, Cassill at least will walk away with a third-place finish, with Sieg and Josh Berry completing the top five. Parker Kligerman, in a one-off appearance for Big Machine Racing, earned a sixth-place result, with Ty Gibbs, Daniel Hemric, Brandon Jones, and Noah Gragson rounding out the top-10.
Unexpectedly for an Xfinity race at Talladega, restraint was the buzzword of the day, with all 38 cars running at the finish and only a single caution for cause all afternoon. That came on the only the third lap, when a shove from Justin Allgaier on the exit of Turn 2 sent Gibbs’ No. 54 Toyota spinning in front of the pack. Remarkably, the 19-year-old Gibbs kept control of the Sport Clips GR Supra, suffering only minor contact with the SAFER barrier and avoiding collecting any other cars.
A familiar name up front in pack races, Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Hill started from pole position, and the Georgia driver held the lead early with some drafting help from his teammate Sheldon Creed. Despite losing the lead briefly to Justin Allgaier, Hill was able to regain the top spot and lead the field home at the end of stage one.
Stage two was the same song, different verse, as Hill once again battled past veteran pack-racer Trevor Bayne, seized the lead, and stretched the field single file. Bayne, Allgaier and Allmendinger pulled clean but aggressive moves to temporarily lead, but in the end Hill once again came out on top, claiming his second stage win of the afternoon and just the third of his career.
Kudos is owed to Bayley Currey in the No. 4 Alka-Seltzer Chevrolet, who took the lead after Ryan Sieg hit pit road and stayed out front for 10 laps in the final stage. Currey stopped on lap 81 and went a lap down, finishing 24th.
Much of the final stage saw Austin Hill lead the field single-file around the bottom of the track, as those in the middle and back of the pack made their plans for a late-race charge. That charge came with six laps remaining, as first Parker Kligerman and then Mayer jumped to the top side of the track.
With five laps to go, Mayer’s JR Motorsports teammate Gragson assumed the lead of the top line, getting a huge run on the leader on the entry to the tri-oval. Hill, whose masterful blocks kept him at the front all day, made his one big mistake, running all the way to the wall to defend Gragson’s move and allowing both Mayer and Allmendinger through on the bottom. With no drafting help in his far outside lane, Hill would fade to 14th at the checkered flag.
With Allmendinger and Gragson both locked into the Round of 8, the remaining 10 drivers will fight to advance in next week’s Drive for the Cure 250. Gibbs, Hill, Berry, Allgaier, Mayer and Sieg currently own transfer spots, with Hemric just seven points back of the cut line. Brandon Jones and Riley Herbst, nine and ten points back respectively, could advance on the strength of a good result, but 12th place Jeremy Clements, 47 points back, will likely need a win.
Featured image from Kaulig Racing on Twitter